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Judge in Trump fraud trial threatened as case wraps up

Former US president Donald Trump arrived at a New York court to observe closing arguments in a civil fraud trial that could hobble his business empire, as a threat against the judge overseeing the case prompted the court to bolster security.

The New York Times reported that authorities in suburban Nassau County responded to a bomb threat at the home of Justice Arthur Engoron, who has been a frequent target of Mr Trump’s criticism.

A court spokesperson confirmed that Judge Engoron had been threatened and a Nassau County spokesperson confirmed that police had responded to a security incident at a residence at 5.30am (10.30am Irish time), without providing further details.

Security has been an issue throughout the months-long trial. Judge Engoron’s top staffer faced threats after Mr Trump criticised her as politically biased, prompting the judge to issue a gag order barring him from disparaging court staff.

Mr Trump has been fined $15,000 (€13,700) for twice violating the order.

A court spokesperson confirmed Judge Engornon was threatened, with the New York Times reporting that a bomb threat was made at his home

Most recently, Mr Engoron denied Mr Trump’s bid to deliver his own closing arguments after the former president would not accept ground rules barring him from making a “campaign speech”.

Mr Trump has criticised the trial as a “witch hunt” and complained that he was not being allowed to make his case.

“I really have no rights,” Mr Trump said as he arrived at the court. “We’ll see whether or not the judge allows me to speak.”

The state is seeking nearly $370 million (€339m) in penalties from the former US president for overstating his net worth to banks.

The lawsuit by New York Attorney General Letitia James alleged Mr Trump and his associates inflated the value of his assets by billions of dollars to secure better loan terms and other financial benefits for more than a decade.

Some onlookers cheered and chanted “thank you James” as she arrived at the courthouse.

Mr Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election, has denied wrongdoing.

Protesters block traffic ahead of Donald Trump’s appearance in court

He has complained that the trial is interfering with his campaign but has used occasional court appearances to rally support with inflammatory remarks to news cameras assembled outside.

Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will be the first to decide their preferred nominee this month in contests that are seen as bellwethers for the wider race.

Read more: White House hopefuls fail to hit Trump in Iowa debate

The lawsuit is one of many legal troubles Mr Trump faces, though none have diminished his commanding lead over party rivals.

Judge Engoron presided over the trial in Manhattan and will issue a verdict at a later date without a jury.

He found Mr Trump liable for fraud in September, leaving the trial to focus largely on how much money the former US president should surrender as ill-gotten gains.

Mr Trump has appealed Judge Engoron’s prior order and is almost certain to appeal any verdict against him, which could delay a final judgment for many months to a year or more.

Throughout trial, the state’s lawyers sought to show that Mr Trump consistently overvalued many of the towers, golf clubs and other assets that burnished his reputation as a business mogul before he entered politics.

During defiant and meandering testimony in November, Mr Trump defended the valuations of his properties, boasted of his business acumen and accused Ms James and Judge Engoron of being political partisans.

The trial featured a tense face-to-face reunion between Mr Trump and his one-time lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who had not seen his former boss in person since their acrimonious break five years ago.

Mr Cohen said Mr Trump directed him to change asset values on his financial statements to arrive at whatever arbitrary net worth he desired.

Mr Trump’s lawyers said Mr Cohen lacked credibility because of his past felony convictions and open animosity toward Mr Trump.

That was the basis for one of their several bids for an immediate verdict in their favor, all of which Judge Engoron denied.

Mr Trump’s adult children Donald Jr, Eric and Ivanka Trump also testified, saying they had little or no involvement in preparing their father’s financial statements while running the Trump Organisation.

All three have denied wrongdoing.

Unlike her brothers, Ms Trump is not a defendant.

Mr Trump faces four potential criminal trials this year.

He has been charged in Washington and Georgia for his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss, in Florida for his handling of classified documents, and in New York for hush money he paid to an adult film actress.

He has pleaded not guilty in all those cases.

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